Dealing with the public…or not.

Hello fair readers!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about public access issues in relation to libraries. This is something I guess I never put entirely too much thought into since I formerly worked in a public setting. My first library experience comes from the Kalamazoo Public Library, a truly amazing and progressive public institution.

Pretty yes? I know. Totally pretty.

But I guess I took advantage of the fact that the public was welcome there. It truly wasn’t a doubt in my mind that people could enter and use the library and in fact, had the right to.

Now a couple years later I am working in Academic libraries. It appears to me that every academic library has a different policy regarding the public. The Law Library I am working in does not allow members of the public to come in…unless of course they know the magic words….. (psst, they are “I’m would like to look at government documents”). As a federal depository members of the public must be allowed in but let me tell you, this fact certainly isn’t advertised.

And this isn’t just at my library. I have noticed that most Academic law libraries are extremely difficult to gain access to if you are not affiliated with the university. Some people have compared it to gaining entrance to Fort Knox.

I’m not kidding.

But then I have to think….what is the purpose of an Academic library. Who is the main patron? Why are they there?

It is to serve the students, faculty and university community. The arena is Academia, not public service.

So it is assumed that when members of the public are allowed in, it is a privilege. Not a right. Which is taking some getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my libraries. They are beautiful amazing institutions.

Northwestern’s students and faculty are truly lucky. The wealth of resources and information that is available to them can be almost overwhelming. On top of this, the Northwestern library system is dynamic. For example there is something called the Infocommons, which is the first thing you see when you enter the main library.

With circular seating, large screens you can hook up your laptops to, and an area that can be loud, not silent, there is a large focus on collaboration. It is amazing. And there is also coffee. Yummy.

However, if you are a member of the public do not expect access to these things. And I suppose that is fine. Chicago Public has some really amazing assets as well. As someone who worked in the public sector for so long, it is just difficult getting used to this. It is a totally different goal. Which is strange but certainly has it’s positive side.

For example, I have not had to deal with a any crazy mentally ill people slightly stalking me yet.

::knock on wood::

(that story can be explained in a later blog posting)

And dealing with students, especially Northwestern’s can be challenging and inspiring. I have been asked some of the most stimulating questions, including information about the Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo Bay and even research that deals with the Green Movement in China…which I can basically tell you barely exists. But as in every library, the patron base can be a bit difficult. Maybe not in that crazy, I’m-going-to-watch-you-from-behind-stacks kind of way but a I’m-paying-$5o grand- a year-in-tuition kind of way.

Overall I guess this just takes some getting used to. Every library has a mission statement. And in if the public isn’t included in that mission, then that is ok. Because that is why there are public libraries. Right?

Have a lovely Wednesday.


3 responses to “Dealing with the public…or not.

  1. That’s a really flattering picture of KPL..normally it feels a lot darker there to me. By the way, your favorite stalker hasn’t been in for months.

    I think it would drive me crazy not to allow the public in–but that’s why I work at a public library and not an academic one. Academic libraries are there to serve the students and faculty, and that’s exactly what they should be doing.

  2. thedonofpages

    Sometimes I seek information that is way out in left field. Public libraries simply don’t have it. For example, reentrant rhombic antenna design, or maybe redistricting algorithms. I suspect some academic libraries have the info, but are holding it for ransom. I’m not a researcher, just a taxpayer.

  3. @ thedonofpages

    I’m not completely positive but certain Academic libraries are open to the public and/or researchers. But just being a taxpayer will not gain you entry into private university libraries. However maybe libraries like UIC or any other public institutions would be helpful. Just a thought.

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